I didn’t get to the Festival on Sunday morning, so missed out on A C Grayling’s session, The Good Book, which the Art Student said was superb. I plan to listen to the podcast. We bought a copy of the book, which describes itself as a secular bible, and the Art Student is threatening to organise a bible reading circle among our atheist friends.
I was back on deck in the afternoon for
2:30: Poems on Pillows
Australian Poetry Ltd, the new ‘peak industry body for poetry’ (I didn’t make that up!) ran a competition in the lead-up to the Festival. People were asked to submit 10-line poems on the theme of Sweet Dreams. Seven poems were selected, printed on postcards and placed on the pillow of every bed in the hotel where Festival guests were staying. At this session the seven winning poems were read to us, six of them by the poets.
My guess is that the audience was mostly friends and relatives of the winners, and losers who had come to see what they’d been beaten by. It turned out I belonged in both categories. My submission, which I’m too embarrassed to reproduce here, played around with Daisy Bates’s phrase ‘smooth the pillow of the dying race’ and amounted to a little squib about genocide. I’d failed to notice the Sweet Dreams theme and wasn’t surprised when I didn’t make the cut.
I would have been delighted to find any one of winning poems on my pillow, and it wasn’t surprising to hear that at least one distinguished writer was seen addressing his postcard poem to his mother.
Five of the winners are connected in some way with writing for children or young adults: Tricia Dearborn, Bill Condon, Libby Hathorn, Laura Jan Shore and Richard Tipping. I don’t know about the others, Scott Chambers and Josh McMahon. When I pointed this preponderance out during the brief question time, one of the panellists recognised me and replied by drawing attention to me as a benefactor of children’s poets in my past life as editor of the School Magazine, which was good squirmy fun.
4.00: David Hicks and Donna Mulhearn
This was my last Festival event, David Hicks’s ﬁrst public appearance since the publication of his memoir, in fact since his detention in Guantanamo Bay. He was in conversation with pacifist Donna Mulhearn, who had gone to Iraq as a human shield. She did a very nice job of shepherding him through what must have been a gruelling event, even though the audience was demonstratively sympathetic. She kicked off, for example, by saying she was going to ask him the question that was on the forefront of everybody’s mind: was it true that he had been invited by Channel 7 to appear in Dancing with the Stars? Yes, he said, it was true, and his wife had wanted him to wear the costume to this event, but it’s purple with sequins.
For the most part, things felt very raw. Talk about terror and pity – and shame and rage! Mine, I mean. Hicks said at the start that during those years of being kept incommunicado, thankfully unaware that he had been abandoned by the Australian government, he had learned to detach from his experience, and that was how he was managing this experience. He spoke pretty much in a monotone, but did manage to say he was ‘annoyed’ by the way the press had bought into the lies and distortions told about him. He has never been convicted by a legitimate court of breaking the US or Australian law, and has received no compensation, explanation or apology from either government, not even an acknowledgement of the extraordinarily harsh treatment. The press received his memoir with almost total silence. And Donna Mulhearn told us of something Miranda Devine said in her review that went beyond her normal level of vicious contrarianism to pure evil. The current Labor government, having decried the treatment of Hicks when in opposition, has made no moves in his support in government.
‘This shouldn’t be about me,’ Hicks said. He got passionate describing the sufferings of the people of Kosovo as they were told to him when he went there to join the KLA, and reminding us that people are still being killed in Kashmir. Julia Gillard’s statements about Julian Assange sound very like John Howard’s about Hicks: both seem perfectly content to abandon an Australian citizen to a dangerously extra-legal fate in the US.
One tiny grace note: throughout, Donna Mulhearn pronounced the Gitmo prison’s location as Guantamano Bay. Of course this was inadvertent, but I imagine angels rejoicing at this tiny act of disrespect.
I plan to buy David Hicks’s memoir. It feels like a duty to give the horse’s mouth a go, given all agenda-driven stuff I’ve read about him elsewhere.
I haven’t mentioned the absence of PEN Chairs this year. At past Festivals theere has been an empty chair on the stage at some events, representing writers who are imprisoned or harmed by governments. At each session where there was a chair, details about one such writer would be read out. It’s a shame that the tradition was abandoned this year, when Liao Yiwu, invited to appear here, was prevented from attending by the Chinese government. And I haven’t mentioned the busker who sat hunched over a clickety-clackety typewriter offering to type a word portrait for five dollars. I haven’t said much about the weather (glorious), the crowds (big), the volunteers (orange-shirted and everywhere), the app (fabulous), the serendipitous encounters (constant), but I imagine you know the sort of thing.
Now it’s all over bar the reading.